Saturday, November 19, 2011

An Editor Tackles the Topic of Deadlines…a truly scary word

By Stacey Rhodes Birkel (Guest Blogger)

Lisabet was kind enough to invite me back today to talk about deadlines. Of course, writing this post was an exercise in meeting one, since it was one of those unfortunately frequent, odd little to-do’s that pop up often enough to mess with any sort of schedule I try to adhere to. Lisabet even gave me a deadline for getting this post to her…and if that’s not ironic, I don’t know what is.

So the word “deadlines” has been flashing in my head all week. However, it wasn’t until I sat down to write this post that I really looked at the word “deadline”.

Dead. Well, we all know what that means. Rather ominous, isn’t it?

Line. Likely from the proverbial line in the sand, which in and of itself can have two meanings. Either it’s a point not to be crossed without dire consequences, or it refers to an act after which there is no going back. No do-overs.

Huh. Yeah. Not a very friendly word to say the least. It actually seemed rather tame to me until I broke it down just now. Now, it just scares the pants off me. It also makes me think about the power I wield. Because not only am I a writer dealing with inevitable and multiple “do-not-pass” dates for submitting, returning and approving of my own work, I also dole those dates out on a daily basis.

Yes…I am one of the dreaded editors.

Right now, I edit for over fifty authors, both for a publishing house and freelance for authors who self-publish. This means that I have literally dozens of manuscripts in various stages of the editing process to keep track of and “chase” at any given time. And I’ll tell you right now, without deadlines, it would devolve into utter chaos (as opposed to controlled chaos).

Now, I’ll tell you right now—I’m a born procrastinator. Fortunately, I also hate conflict, which means when the chips are down and something is looming that will cause a hot mess if it’s not completed, I will pull out all the stops to get it done. Very tough to do on the creative side, I know. Believe me, I feel you. I have wrestled with my muse over something that has to be in, but that I just can’t seem to finish, often enough to have real empathy for my authors when it’s just not flowing.

Unfortunately, time just keeps marching along, and when you have a long, involved process to complete that takes multiple people, at some point—this is where the deadlines come in—you have to begin or it will never get done in time.

The ultimate deadline that we all have driving us in this industry is the publishing date—the release date. Everything works backwards from that sought-after point at which the completed product is available to the public. Allowances? Can occasionally be made. Shortcuts? Sure, we have them and we use them. But they only really work if it’s an exception, and not happening with more than one person in the process.

Here’s a (mostly) fictional example. An author has promised a completed manuscript to me by a certain date. Life happens, the muse takes a vacation, the author gets sick…whatever it is (and sometimes more than one thing). Of course, I’m going along and working on dozens of other manuscripts with dozens of other authors. But I keep looking at my tracking sheet. Missing Title isn’t in to me yet. I email for a status update. I get a response, promising it by another date…past the deadline, but the author is soooo close to finishing.

I’m understanding. I give the author a bit of leash. Then I turn around and tell the publisher, yes, Missing Title will be coming, please bear with us.

Time passes…as does the new date. I get an email from the publisher, wanting a status update on Missing Title. I contact the author once again. This could go on for some time. And yes, it could result in the “ultimate deadline” ie the release date, being pushed back.

This is why: without the manuscript I can’t evaluate and approve it for contracting. It is only at that point I can have the author fill out the paperwork to start the contracting process. Then someone else has to get the contracts out to the author (and the editor and the cover artist), so if that typically happens in a batch once a week, there will either be a wait, depending on where in the week we are, or the person who does that part has to stop what they’re doing and make an exception, which throws them out of their routine.

Then once contracted, we can actually “touch” the book. I can start edits. The cover artist can start their job. The website person can create the book page. That’s a lot of people waiting to start work and possibly having to do things out of synch or out of order because a deadline wasn’t met. Keeps going on down the line. Until I finish the editing process, the proofers can’t do their jobs, the person who creates versions for release can’t do their jobs, pre-sales can’t happen, etc.

(Believe me when I say, I have a lot of respect for my own editors and their time now that I know everything that happens behind the scenes.)

Now…imagine that perhaps the author doesn’t turn the second round of edits around quickly because they’re out of town. Or the cover artist has a sick kid. Or the formatter has a two-week holiday planned.

Imagine there are two or four or ten authors asking for extensions or ignoring emails. (Because it’s never just one at a time. Oh no.)

Yeah. Welcome to my reality.

Which is why, in retrospect, the frightening aspect of my breakdown of the word “deadline” fits pretty well after all.

When Stacey isn’t politely emailing her authors or working on their edits, she occasionally manages to crank out a few pages under her pen name of Devon Rhodes.


  1. Welcome back to the Grip, Stacey!

    (Some readers may not know that you're an OGG alumna!)

    (Also I should mention that Stacey is MY editor at Total-E-Bound!)

    Thanks for a great post! I didn't realize how many authors you had in your group. I've been really impressed by your weekly status emails. I could never keep track of so many different deadlines. Honestly, the stress would kill me! (Hence "dead"...!)

  2. EEK. I'm sure you weren't talking about me....hmmm...*runs off to work on manuscript*

  3. She couldn't have been talking about me, either....O.o.
    It's interesting, because I was just talking to my daughter on the bus ride in to the dance studio about how my editor might be wondering where Skate and Jacob were.....(daughter looked at me like I was crazy, of course, because she's never heard of Skate or Jacob, and would think I was off my rocker if I tried to explain they are make believe characters...that's the subject of a whole other post, though)

  4. Obviously, something needs to be done about these muses. They seem to be the ones gumming up the works for everyone.

  5. Thanks for having me back, Lisabet. Now you know why, once I began editing fulltime, I could no longer meet the OGG weekly deadlines! :D

    Yes, I do have a bunch. And granted, there are a few "inactives" in there, but to balance those out, I have some extraordinarily prolific authors!

    Those weekly updates are really an extension of a pretty complex and necessary tracking and filing process. I've found that when my authors can see what I'm up to on a weekly basis, they're much more responsive when I need to work on edits with them. Plus, it keeps me focused...because I'm essentially "showing my hand" every Monday as to what I've accomplished that week. Wanna look good, ya know? ;)

  6. *give Amber a look*

    Now, you notice I did say "mostly" fictional, right? Far be it from me to point fingers, ahem. :D

    Amber is one of my "prolific ones", fyi. :)

  7. Poor Jaime, and look at my authors coming out of the woodwork! At the super-novel lengths you tend to write, love, and the excellent condition on your final drafts, a bit of extra time is allowable. :)

  8. Oh yes, Kathleen, and they certainly take the fall for it. If I did a search for the word "muse" in the emails I've received, I'm sure I'd get hundreds of hits!

    Good to see you again! :)

  9. Well, thank the powers that be (and a certain co-author who shall remain nameless) for that, because my silly muses, who used to be so very succinct, appear to have found their stride, and their tongues, gall darn it!

  10. See, Jaime, that right there is the reason. You have muses (plural) instead of just one! No wonder you're verbose! ;)

  11. It's not me, it's them! (The mouthy little brats!) I'm just the stenographer. (that is the person who takes dictation, right, ms. editor lady?)

  12. Yes, yes it is. Though I'd be more properly known as Ms Editor Lady (note current style of no punctuation on titles). ;)

  13. erg. I stand corrected. But then, I'm used to that from you ;p


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